Alcoholism affects everyone in its path. The person abusing alcohol and the loved ones on the sidelines are impacted. If you’re worried you or someone you love has an alcohol addiction, learn about warning signs of alcoholism and how people get better.

Recognizing Alcohol Addiction Signs and Symptoms

No one starts drinking with the intention of developing alcohol addiction, but it happens. In 2017, over 14 million people met criteria for an alcohol use disorder. For some people it can be a slippery slope from casual drinking to alcohol abuse. Once you develop a dependency on alcohol, it changes the brain. Your ability to make decisions and manage your life effectively goes downhill.  Your life revolves around alcohol and you have a hard time functioning without it.

Common warning signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse include:

  • Needing more alcohol to get the same effect
  • Failed attempts to quit or cu down alcohol use
  • Feeling unable to turn down alcohol
  • Inability to keep alcohol in the house for a period of time without drinking it
  • Problems with work, family and school because of drinking
  • Drinking and driving, and DUIs
  • Financial issues due to alcohol abuse
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you don’t drunk such as:
    • Headaches
    • Shakiness/delirium tremens
    • Anxiety
    • Nausea
    • Insomnia
    • Mood changes
  • Drinking alcohol to prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Drinking alcohol when you weren’t planning on it
  • Having blackouts when you drink
  • Needing to consume alcohol to feel normal
  • Drinking at home before going to events that will have alcohol
  • Spending a lot of time and energy drinking and recovering from drinking
  • Drinking alone or hiding how much you drink
  • Alcohol poisoning from binge drinking
  • Drinking so much your judgement is impaired
  • Continuing to abuse alcohol despite the negative consequences

Some alcoholics are obviously drunk when they abuse alcohol. During drinking episodes they may have:

  • Strong emotions like sadness or anger
  • Problems controlling movements (they stumble or fall down)
  • Problems making sense when speaking (rambling)
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Slurred speech
  • Bloodshot or glassy eyes
  • Problems remembering what happened after they sober up

Other alcoholics appear to be somewhat in control when they drink. They’re not “falling down drunk.” This is because they have a very high tolerance. They’ve moved from getting drunk to trying to prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This doesn’t mean they’re okay to drive or perform other tasks. It means they’re so used to drinking it’s easier for them to act normally.

If you or your loved one can relate to these alcohol addiction signs and symptoms, consider professional alcohol addiction treatment.

Effects of Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse can cause short- and long-term damage to your health. Short-term effects could include car accidents, on-the-job injuries, or alcohol poisoning and hospitalization. Alcohol abuse puts you at higher risk for many long-term complications, including:

  • Liver disease
  • Liver failure
  • Liver inflammation
  • Brain changes that affect mood and behavior
  • Stroke
  • Pancreas inflammation that interferes with digestion
  • High blood pressure
  • Weak immune system
  • Stretching or loosening the heart muscle
  • Irregular heart beats
  • Movement problems
  • Breast cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Colon and rectal cancer
  • Head and neck cancer

Long-term alcohol addiction can also cause problems within your relationships. Many addicts find themselves with financial problems while trying to feed their addiction by purchasing more alcohol to keep them from feeling withdrawal symptoms.

What Causes Alcohol Addiction?

Researchers believe environmental and genetic factors influence addiction. People may struggle with one or several risk factors. Circumstances that put you at greater risk for alcohol addiction include:

Mental Illness

About half of people with addictions also have at least one mental illness. People sometimes abuse alcohol to cope with conditions like depression or anxiety. Alcohol abuse may provide temporary relief from symptoms. Then the symptoms come back even stronger. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s called a dual diagnosis and requires addiction and psychiatric treatment.

Family History of Alcoholism

If you have family with alcoholism, your chance of abusing alcohol increases. Some research suggests genetics account for about 40-60% of the risk factors for alcohol abuse. If you have relatives with alcoholism, you’re four times more likely to abuse alcohol. Some studies find growing up in a household with a lot of drinking can make you more likely to abuse alcohol later in life.

Drinking as a Teenager

People that start drinking early are at greater risk for alcoholism. One survey of 43,000 people found those that began drinking in their teens were at higher risk for alcoholism later in life. They also became dependent on alcohol faster. Almost half of the survey’s alcoholics had an alcohol use disorder by the time they were 21. These were people that began drinking in their teens. People who drank as teens were also more likely to have long-term alcoholism with relapses.

Emotional Issues

Trauma and other emotional pain can lead to drinking. People may drink to try to numb difficult feelings that linger from these experiences. Emotional issues that put people at greater risk for alcoholism include:

  • Physical or emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Unpredictable home environment
  • Physical or emotional neglect
  • Witnessing abuse of others
  • Unhealthy relationships with caregivers

How to Help Yourself

Once you have alcohol dependence, it’s very difficult to quit drinking on your own. This likely isn’t news to you. You’ve probably tried to quit or cut back on your own already.

It’s not a good idea to quit drinking cold turkey without medical help. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be painful, dangerous and even deadly. Alcohol rehab provides medical detox. This means medical professionals monitor you around the clock. They give you medications that will help ease your withdrawal symptoms. Medical detox ensures you’re safe and as comfortable as possible.

Alcohol detox is the first step. You need to work on the reasons why you drink to prevent relapse. In alcohol rehab you’ll explore these reasons and start healing from them. You’ll also learn healthy coping skills to deal with triggers in your life.

How to Help an Addicted Loved One

Many times it’s not easy convincing an addicted person to get help. You see them destroying their life. You’d think they’d want the treatment they need to get better. The reality is that they’re not calling the shots anymore. Their alcohol use disorder is. Addiction has hijacked their brain and drinking alcohol is the main focus in their life. Here’s how you can help:

Involve a Medical Professional

If your loved one won’t listen to you, encourage them to talk to their doctor. This can be a first step in helping them see they have a problem. Encourage them to be honest about the amount of alcohol they’re drinking. Their doctor can tell them that they fit the criteria for an alcohol use disorder. They can explain the long list of long-term physical and mental problems alcohol abuse can cause. Hearing this from a medical professional can sometimes be the eye-opener they need.

Many people aren’t honest with their doctor about how much they drink. If you doubt your loved one will be upfront about their issues, you may need to try more direct approaches like an alcohol intervention.

Have an Alcohol Intervention

Sometimes an alcohol intervention is a wake-up call. Even if the alcohol intervention doesn’t end with your loved one going to alcohol rehab, it gives them food for thought. When they’re down and out, they may think back to the alcohol intervention and decide maybe a treatment center is what they need.

A professional interventionist can guide you through an alcohol intervention. They’ll teach you the most effective ways to communicate your feelings to your loved one. They can also answer your loved one’s questions about what alcohol detox and alcohol rehab is really like.

An alcohol intervention can be useful for you even if your loved one doesn’t get help. Expressing how your loved one’s drinking has affected you as well as your concern for them can be healing.

Visit an Alcohol Treatment Center

Depending on what stage of addiction they’re in, your loved one could be open to visiting alcohol rehab. You’re more likely to get them to agree to this when they’re having a hard time. You might say something like, “Let’s just go hear what they have to say and see what it’s like. You don’t have to commit to anything.” Most treatment centers offer tours. Your loved one can talk to a staff member and learn why they need professional help. Some treatment centers will also conduct an assessment and share their findings with your loved one.

Don’t Enable Them

You can be there for your loved one. You can help them get the treatment they need. What you can’t do is their recovery work. Family and friends of people with addictions want them to get better so badly they sometimes work harder than the addict. The reality of addiction is that many people don’t get help until they’re in crisis. Perhaps they’ve gotten into legal or financial trouble. They’ve been arrested. They’ve lost their job or ruined relationships. If you keep coming to their rescue, they won’t have any motivation to get better. Letting go is difficult, but it’s the best thing you can do for your loved one.

If you recognize the signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction in yourself or someone you love, get help. Addiction is a progressive disease that gets worse over time. Alcoholism treatment at The Ranch can help you repair the damage alcohol causes and take back your life.

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Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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